By Max Sass, Sports Editor
I didn't think anything could get Hofstra women's head coach to smile, let alone laugh, after her team's Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinal loss to VCU. She did just that though, when I asked if she had taken the opportunity to think about how good next year's team could be.
"That was the first thing I said to them in the locker room," Kilburn-Steveskey said amongst a few chuckles.
So even though the loss stung, and being snubbed by the WNIT probably hurt even more, the thought of next season is enough to excite anyone who has seen this team.
"We are right there and I'm glad that somebody else sees that besides me because I think I'm biased sometimes," Kilburn-Steveksey said.
The core of the team returns, led by sophomore forward Shante Evans, a All-CAA first team selection and the Pride's leading scorer and rebounder. Evans averaged 18.4 points per game and 11.0 rebounds per contest and should be even better next season as a junior.
"This was our first year in our new offense so next year it's going to be clicking, so it's going to be second nature," Evans said. "We are definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with next year."
For much of the season Evans was alone in the post, being double-teamed by opponents because center Marie Malone was out with an injury. Malone's return next season should provide Evans with a low-post scoring and rebounding compliment.
Freshman Kate Loper, a guard who won CAA Rookie of the Week eight times this season, will only improve as a sophomore. She averaged 11.5 points per game in her rookie year, including shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range.
Loper will be joined on the perimiter by a very veteran group including current juniors Nicole Capurso, Candice Bellocchio and Jael Pena.
Capurso averaged 11.1 points per game this season and became a dangerous threat to drive towards the end of the season, repeatedly slashing to the basket for crucial baskets. Bellocchio averaged over five assists per game to go along with 8.4 points each contest.
Pena, who has made a name for herself as a hounding defender, should be able to replace graduating senior Aamira Terry as the team's go-to perimiter stopper.
The best defender on the team though, is returning in sophomore forward Candace Bond. Not only is Bond a tenacious defender with a much-improved offensive game, but her intensity rubs off on all her teammates.
The addition of freshman forward Anma Onyeuku to the regual rotation looks promising too, espeically given her performance in the CAA Tournament. Onyeuku recorded 15 points and eight rebounds in the Pride's first round victory over William & Mary. She then narrowly missed a double-double against VCU in the quarterfinals, with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Freshman guard Annie Payton also looks promising and will soon become a deadly outside shooter for the Pride. She showed flashes this past season including a 15 point, seven rebound performance at Delaware.
While Terry and senior forward Isoken Uzamere will need to be replaced, Kilburn-Steveskey has once again brought in an impressive recruiting class to swap in for the outgoing players. The class includes point guard Andreana Thomas of West Haven, CT, who averaged 15 points, 10 assists and eight steals per game as a junior.
So Kilburn-Steveskey should laugh. Next year is going to be a fun ride for her team.